US Moves to Protect Minnesota Wilderness from Planned Mine

The Biden administration moved Thursday to protect northeastern Minnesota’s pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from future mining, dealing a potentially fatal blow to a copper-nickel project.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order closing more than 900 square kilometers of the Superior National Forest in the Rainy River Watershed around the town of Ely, to mineral and geothermal leasing for 20 years, the longest period the department can sequester the land without congressional approval.

The order is “subject to existing valid rights,” but the Biden administration contends that Twin Metals Minnesota lost its rights last year, when the department rescinded a Trump administration decision to reinstate federal mineral rights leases that were critical to the project. Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, filed suit in August to try to reclaim those rights, and reaffirmed Tuesday that it’s not giving up despite its latest setback.

“Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy,” Haaland said in a statement. “With an eye toward protecting this special place for future generations, I have made this decision using the best available science and extensive public input.”

Project’s critics praise decision

Critics of the project hailed the decision as a massive victory and called for permanent protection for the wilderness. But supporters of Twin Metals said the order runs counter to the administration’s stated goal of increasing domestic supplies of metals critical to the clean energy economy.

The proposed underground mine would be built southeast of Ely, near Birch Lake, which flows into the Boundary Waters. The project has been battered by shifting political winds. The Obama administration, in its final weeks, chose not to renew the two leases, which had dated back more than 50 years. The Trump administration reversed that decision and reinstated the leases. But the Biden administration canceled the leases last January after the U.S. Forest Service in October 2021 relaunched the review and public engagement process for the 20-year mining moratorium.

While the Biden administration last year committed itself to expanding domestic sources of critical minerals and metals needed for electric vehicles and renewable energy, it made clear Thursday that it considers Boundary Waters to be a unique area worthy of special protections. A day ago, the administration said it would reinstate restrictions on roadbuilding and logging in the country’s largest national forest, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

‘An attack on our way of life’

Twin Metals said it was “deeply disappointed and stunned” over the moratorium.

“This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains,” the company said in a statement. “We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals’ rights.”

Twin Metals says it can mine safely without generating acid mine drainage that the Biden administration and environmentalists say makes the $1.7 billion project an unacceptable risk to the wilderness. And it says the mine would create more than 750 high-wage mining jobs plus 1,500 spinoff jobs in the region.

Republican U.S. Representative Pete Stauber, who represents northeastern Minnesota, condemned the decision as “an attack on our way of life” that will benefit only foreign suppliers such as China that have fewer labor and environmental protections.

“America needs to develop our vast mineral wealth, right here at home, with high-wage, union protected jobs,” he said in a statement.

Democratic U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, who represents the St. Paul area, applauded the order, yet warned in a statement that a future administration could reverse the decision.

The order does not affect two other proposed copper-nickel projects in northeastern Minnesota — the PolyMet mine near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes and the Talon Metals mine near Tamarack — which lie in different watersheds.

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With New Deep Sea Port, Nigeria’s Focus Turns to Better Road, Rail Connections 

Nigerian authorities have hailed the launch of a deepwater seaport in Lagos they say will create 300,000 jobs and reduce shipping bottlenecks. While the new port is expected to reduce losses due to congestion, shipping industry experts say Nigeria’s poor roads and rail connections to ports also must be improved.

The launch by President Mohammadu Buhari during his two-day visit this week to Lagos signaled his government’s effort to grow Nigeria’s economy through infrastructural development.

The 1.5-billion-dollar, Chinese-built Lekki Deep Sea Port sits on 90 hectares of land in the Lagos Free Trade Zone — the biggest port by size in West Africa.

Authorities say ships docking at the port could be up to four times the size of vessels at the state’s Tin Can and Apapa ports. They expect it will ease delays and congestion at ports and increase earnings by up to $360 billion in coming years.

Efioita Ephraim is a manager at Ports and Terminal Nigeria, Ltd.

“The current ports we have in the country are located along rivers, tributaries and that’s why there are limitations. It’s a welcome development to have an infrastructure like this in our country. With this, larger vessels will be able to berth at our ports and we shall be in competition with neighboring countries such as Cotonou [Benin],” said Ephraim.

Most of Nigeria’s seaports were built many decades ago and are either closed or operating below capacity.

Nigeria loses an estimated $1 billion a year to delays and bottlenecks at ports. To address the problem, the Nigerian Ports Authority launched an automated process for clearing cargo at ports.

Abiodun Gbadamosi is the former general manager of Nigeria’s western ports. He said the new deep sea port at Lagos will add to Nigeria’s economic progress and create jobs.

The country’s bureau of statistics says Nigeria’s unemployment rate is 33 percent.

“What Nigeria needs now are jobs, jobs and more jobs, and that’s going to go a very long way. It’s going to improve the commerce around that area. It’s highly commendable and it’s going to actually propel the state. Then Nigeria can now push forward the idea of being hub for the region,” he said.

Ephraim said authorities must improve road and rail accessibility to the area.

“If the items are to be conveyed out of the port and into the port by road, then I would expect the multimodal mode of transportation be encouraged to and from the Lekki deep sea port, rail water and road transportation.”

China is one of Nigeria’s biggest lenders and has been funding rail, road and power projects.

The first commercial vessel is expected to arrive in the port this Sunday.

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US Dismantles Ransomware Network Responsible for More Than $100 Million in Extortion

An international ransomware network that extorted more than $100 million from hundreds of victims around the world has been brought down following a monthslong infiltration by the FBI, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

The group known as Hive targeted more than 1,500 victims, including hospitals, school districts and financial firms in more than 80 countries, the Justice Department said. Officials say the most recent victim in Florida was targeted about two weeks ago.

In a breakthrough, FBI agents armed with a court order infiltrated Hive’s computer networks in July 2022, covertly capturing its decryption keys and offering them to victims, saving the targets $130 million in ransom payments, officials said.

“Cybercrime is a constantly evolving threat. But as I have said before, the Justice Department will spare no resource to identify and bring to justice, anyone, anywhere, who targets the United States with a ransomware attack,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

Working with German and Dutch law enforcement, the FBI on Wednesday took down the servers that power the Hive network.

“Simply put, using lawful means, we hacked the hackers,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.

While no arrests have been made in connection with the takedown, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that anybody involved with Hive should be concerned, because this investigation is very much ongoing.

“We’re engaged in what we call ‘joint sequenced operations’ … and that includes going after their infrastructure, going after their crypto and going after the people who work with them,” Wray said.

In a ransomware attack, hackers lock in a victim’s network and then demand payments in exchange for providing a decryption key.

Hive used a “ransomware-as-a-service” model where so-called “administrators” develop a malicious software strain and recruit “affiliates” to deploy them against victims.

Officials said Hive affiliates targeted critical U.S. infrastructure entities.

In August 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hive affiliates attacked a Midwest hospital’s network, preventing the medical facility from accepting any new patients, Garland said.

It was only able to recover the data after it paid a ransom.

Hive’s takedown is the latest in the Biden administration’s crackdown on ransomware attacks that are on the rise, costing businesses and organizations billions of dollars.

U.S. banks and financial institutions processed nearly $1.2 billion in suspected ransomware payments in 2021, more than double the amount in 2020, the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) reported in November.

Roughly 75% of the ransomware attacks reported in 2021 had a nexus to Russia, its proxies or persons acting on its behalf, according to FinCen.

The top five highest-grossing ransomware tools used in 2021 were connected to Russian cyber actors, according to FinCen.

Officials would not say whether Hive had any link to Russia.

The Biden administration views ransomware attacks not just as a “pocketbook issue” that affects ordinary Americans but increasingly as a growing national security threat that calls for a coordinated response.

Last year, the White House hosted a two-day international ransomware summit where participants from 36 countries agreed to create a fusion cell at the Regional Cyber Defense Center in Lithuania, followed by an International Counter Ransomware Task Force later this year.

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US Economy Showed Solid Growth at End of 2022

The U.S. economy cooled only slightly at the end of last year, advancing at an annualized 2.9% rate, the Department of Commerce reported Thursday, even as forecasters are suggesting a recession is possible later in 2023.

The growth in the October-to-December quarter dropped from a 3.2% advance in the third quarter, following a half year when the world’s biggest economy shrank.

For all of 2022, the economy grew by a solid, if unspectacular 2.1%, down from a robust 5.7% growth rate in 2021 when the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was in full force.

Last year saw contrasting themes, including the fastest growth in consumer prices in four decades, pinching the wallets of Americans at all income levels.

Yet the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years was recorded, with hundreds of thousands of new jobs being added to payrolls every month. Separately, borrowing costs for businesses and consumer loans and home mortgages rose sharply as the country’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, increased its benchmark interest rate seven times, an effort aimed at slowing economic growth and curbing inflation.

By the end of the year and into January, there were signs the economy was slowing, with some forecasters predicting a recession — meaning two straight quarters of economic decline in the coming months.

With higher interest rates, home buying and retail sales have dropped, while manufacturing output fell in November and December. The hiring of temporary workers is weakening, and major companies, especially in technology and media, are laying off thousands of workers. 

While the inflation rate in consumer prices has dropped, it remains high by historical standards — now at a 6.5% annualized rate, well above the 2% rate sought by Federal Reserve policymakers. It is likely to stay high through much of 2023.

The Fed is also planning more interest rate increases, albeit not likely as big as the ones it imposed in 2022. It is another factor that could curtail U.S. economic growth.

The White House and the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives are facing contentious negotiations over increasing the limit on the national debt, now at $31.4 trillion. The U.S. could reach the spending limit by early June.

If an agreement is not reached, the ensuing turmoil would roil world financial markets and the U.S. government’s credit rating could be cut, as occurred in 2011, the last time Congress and the White House quarreled significantly over increasing the debt limit. 

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Small Asteroid to Pass Near Earth Thursday

The U.S. space agency NASA says a small asteroid will pass very close to Earth Thursday, just 3,600 kilometers from our planet’s surface, well within the orbit of most geosynchronous satellites.
 

In a release on its website, NASA says the object, known as 2023 BU, poses no threat to the Earth. The agency says even if it entered the atmosphere it would turn into a fireball and largely disintegrate harmlessly, with some bigger debris potentially reaching the surface as small meteorites.

 

NASA says the object – just 3.5 to 8.5 meters across – represents one of the closest passes by a near-Earth object ever recorded. It is expected to pass over the southern tip of South America at 7:27 p.m. EST (12:27 a.m. GMT). Experts say it would not be visible without a powerful telescope.

 

The agency said the asteroid was discovered and reported Saturday by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov, who operates an observatory in Nauchnyi, Crimea.

 

NASA says additional observations were reported to the Minor Planet Center, or MPC, – the internationally recognized authenticator of the position of small celestial bodies. The MPC operates from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts under the authority of the International Astronomical Union.

 

The data was automatically posted on the Near-Earth Object Confirmation Page website. Within three days, several observatories around the world had made dozens of observations, helping astronomers better refine 2023 BU’s orbit.

 

The Center for Near Earth Object Studies, or CNEOS, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California analyzed the data from the MPC’s confirmation page and predicted the near miss. CNEOS calculates every known near-Earth asteroid orbit to provide assessments on potential impact hazards in support of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

 

JPL navigation engineer Davide Farnocchia said the CNEOS Scout impact hazard assessment system ruled out any threat of impact by the asteroid. But he said, despite very few observations, it was able to predict that the asteroid would make “an extraordinarily close approach with Earth.”  

 

“In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

 

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press

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Asteroid on Path for Close Call With Earth

An asteroid the size of a delivery truck will whip past Earth on Thursday night, one of the closest such encounters ever recorded.

NASA said it will be a near miss with no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth.

NASA said Wednesday that the newly discovered asteroid will zoom 3,600 kilometers above the southern tip of South America. That’s 10 times closer than the bevy of communication satellites circling overhead.

The closest approach will occur at 7:27 p.m. EST (9:27 p.m. local.)

Even if the space rock came a lot closer, scientists said most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, with some of the bigger pieces possibly falling as meteorites.

NASA’s impact hazard assessment system, called Scout, quickly ruled out a strike, said its developer, Davide Farnocchia, an engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Despite the very few observations, it was nonetheless able to predict that the asteroid would make an extraordinarily close approach with Earth,” Farnocchia said in a statement. “In fact, this is one of the closest approaches by a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

2023 BU

Discovered Saturday, the asteroid known as 2023 BU is believed to be between 3.5 meters and 8.5 meters feet across. It was first spotted by the same amateur astronomer in Crimea, Gennadiy Borisov, who discovered an interstellar comet in 2019. Within a few days, dozens of observations were made by astronomers around the world, allowing them to refine the asteroid’s orbit.

Earth’s gravity will alter the path of the asteroid once it zips by. Instead of circling the sun every 359 days, the rock will move into an oval orbit lasting 425 days, according to NASA.

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Trump Reinstated to Facebook After 2-Year Ban

Facebook parent Meta is reinstating former President Donald Trump’s personal account after a two-year suspension following the January 6, 2021, insurrection. 

The company said in a blog post Wednesday it is adding “new guardrails” to ensure there are no “repeat offenders” who violate its rules. 

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” said Meta, which is based in Menlo Park, California. 

Trump, in a post on his own social media network, blasted Facebook’s decision to suspend his account as he praised his own site, Truth Social. 

“FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since “deplatforming” your favorite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!” he wrote. 

He was suspended on January 7, a day after the deadly 2021 insurrection. Other social media companies also kicked him off their platforms, though he was recently reinstated on Twitter after Elon Musk took over the company. He has not tweeted. 

Banned from mainstream social media, Trump has been relying on Truth Social, which he launched after being blocked from Twitter. 

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US Seeks Reengagement with China to Stop Illicit Fentanyl as Blinken Heads to Beijing

The United States is “actively seeking to reengage” China on counternarcotics, including stopping the flow of illicit synthetic drugs like fentanyl into the U.S., said the State Department ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing in early February.

U.S. officials admit engagement between the two countries on these issues “has been limited in recent months.”

“We don’t have any recent meetings to read out or to preview,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA on Tuesday, when asked if talks to combat fentanyl have been resumed after Beijing suspended collaboration with Washington on the issue in protest of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August.

“Though its past action has helped counter illicit synthetic drug flows, we do hope to see additional action from the PRC (People’s Republic of China) – meaningful, concrete action – to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told VOA this week.

In 2019, China added fentanyl-related substances to the list of controlled narcotic drugs.

While Beijing is no longer a major source of the synthetic opioid flowing to the United States, U.S. officials said Washington continues to see Chinese-origin precursor chemicals being used in illicit fentanyl production and other illicit synthetic drugs.

Bipartisan congressional majorities have approved legislation to prioritize U.S. efforts to combat international trafficking of covered synthetic drugs.

The FENTANYL Results Act was signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden through the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 at the end of last year.

Fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49.

The FENTANYL Results Act would authorize programs through the State Department to build foreign law enforcement capacity to detect synthetic drugs and carry out an international exchange program for drug demand reduction experts, according to Democratic Representative David Trone and Republican Representative Michael McCaul, who co-authored the bill.

Trone said his nephew died of a fentanyl overdose alone in a hotel room.

 

A recent report by the U.S. Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) underlined growing threats of an animal sedative called xylazine (often known as “tranq”) mixed with illicit fentanyl. The risk of overdose multiplies when xylazine is combined with fentanyl.

“A kilogram of xylazine powder can be purchased online from Chinese suppliers with common prices ranging from $6-$20 U.S. dollars per kilogram. At this low price, its use as an adulterant may increase the profit for illicit drug traffickers,” the DEA said in a report late last year.

On Dec. 15, 2021, the State Department announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Chuen Fat Yip, a Chinese national charged in a five-count federal indictment, including manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance knowing it will be unlawfully imported into the United States.

“We have no updates on Chuen Fat Yip,” a spokesperson told VOA when asked if the Chinese government is cooperating on his case.

Yihua Lee from VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.

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Olive Pits Fuel Flights in Spain

The war in Ukraine has exposed Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and is spurring the development of new, cleaner-burning biofuels. Spain is emerging as a leader in this effort, with the introduction late last year of airplane fuel made from olive pits. Marcus Harton narrates this report from Alfonso Beato in Seville.

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Ancient Jerusalem Hand Imprint Baffles Israel Experts

Israeli archaeologists said Wednesday that they are trying to uncover the meaning of a recently discovered hand imprint carved into the stone wall of an ancient moat outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

The imprint, which may been made as a “prank”, was found in a thousand-year-old moat exposed during works to expand a road in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem near Herod’s Gate, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said.

The massive moat was hewn into the stone around all of the Old City, stretching 10 meters (33 feet) across and between two to seven meters deep and, unlike typical European ones, not filled with water.

According to the IAA, Crusaders in 1099 needed five weeks to cross it and breach the city’s walls and defenses

While the moat’s function was clear, the hand’s meaning was elusive.

“It’s a mystery, we tried to solve it,” IAA’s excavation director Zubair Adawi said in a statement.

IAA archaeologists remained uncertain who carved the hand into the rock or its significance.

The moat and hand have meanwhile been covered to enable the continued infrastructure works just below the walls that currently surround the city, built in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent.

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Microsoft Reports Outage for Teams, Outlook, Other Services

Microsoft said it’s seeing some improvement to problems with its online services including the Teams messaging platform and Outlook email system after users around the world reported outages Wednesday. 

In a status update, the tech company reported “service degradation” for a number of its Microsoft 365 services. 

Thousands of users reported problems with Teams, Outlook, the Azure cloud computing service and XBox Live online gaming service early Wednesday on the Downdetector website, which tracks outage reports. Many users also took to social media to complain that services were down. 

By later in the morning, Downdetector showed the number of reports had dropped considerably. 

“We’re continuing to monitor the recovery across the service and some customers are reporting mitigation,” the Microsoft 365 Status Twitter account said. “We’re also connecting the service to additional infrastructure to expedite the recovery process.” 

It tweeted earlier that it had “isolated the problem to a networking configuration issue” and that a network change suspected to be causing the problem was rolled back. 

It comes after Microsoft reported Tuesday that its quarterly profit fell 12%, reflecting economic uncertainty that the company said led to its decision this month to cut 10,000 workers. 

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ChatGPT Bot Passes US Law School Exam

A chatbot powered by reams of data from the internet has passed exams at a U.S. law school after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation and torts.

ChatGPT from OpenAI, a U.S. company that this week got a massive injection of cash from Microsoft, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to generate streams of text from simple prompts.

The results have been so good that educators have warned it could lead to widespread cheating and even signal the end of traditional classroom teaching methods.

Jonathan Choi, a professor at Minnesota University Law School, gave ChatGPT the same test faced by students, consisting of 95 multiple-choice questions and 12 essay questions.

In a white paper titled “ChatGPT goes to law school” published on Monday, he and his coauthors reported that the bot scored a C+ overall.

While this was enough for a pass, the bot was near the bottom of the class in most subjects and “bombed” at multiple-choice questions involving mathematics.

‘Not a great student’

“In writing essays, ChatGPT displayed a strong grasp of basic legal rules and had consistently solid organization and composition,” the authors wrote.

But the bot “often struggled to spot issues when given an open-ended prompt, a core skill on law school exams”.

Officials in New York and other jurisdictions have banned the use of ChatGPT in schools, but Choi suggested it could be a valuable teaching aide.

“Overall, ChatGPT wasn’t a great law student acting alone,” he wrote on Twitter.

“But we expect that collaborating with humans, language models like ChatGPT would be very useful to law students taking exams and to practicing lawyers.”

And playing down the possibility of cheating, he wrote in reply to another Twitter user that two out of three markers had spotted the bot-written paper.

“(They) had a hunch and their hunch was right, because ChatGPT had perfect grammar and was somewhat repetitive,” Choi wrote.

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IMF Chief Praises Zambia’s Reforms, Pushes Creditors on Debt

The head of the International Monetary Fund is praising Zambia’s efforts to reform its economy and urging its creditors to restructure the country’s debts. Zambia was the first African country to default on its sovereign debt in the COVID era. Economists say prompt debt restructuring is needed to restart Zambia’s stagnant economy.

Speaking at the University of Zambia Tuesday, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva applauded Lusaka’s efforts to reform its economy, saying it had done its part and urging its creditors to do theirs.

She said the IMF had reached an understanding in principle with China to restructure almost $6 billion Zambia owes Beijing, one of its main creditors.

The IMF chief acknowledged global disruptions that shook Zambia’s economy.

“Over the last years, we have experienced two unthinkable events:  First COVID, that brought the world economy to a standstill for a prolonged period of time.  Second, the invasion by Russia of Ukraine,” said Georgieva.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year disrupted food, energy, and other markets as western governments hit Moscow with sanctions and Russia’s navy stopped Ukraine’s grain exports. 

Zambia defaulted on its debt in November 2020, the first African country to do so after the COVID pandemic.

But Lusaka’s debt problem predates the pandemic.

The government under former President Edgar Lungu from 2015 more than doubled Zambia’s debt as a percentage of GDP, according to World Bank-collected data.

An IMF study released this month says corruption flourished under Lungu’s government, which his former ruling party rejects.

Current President Hakainde Hichilema, who was elected in 2021, pledged to tackle corruption and secured $1.3 billion in IMF support for Zambia’s debt with reforms that cut wasteful spending.   

Civil Society Debt Alliance economist Boyd Muleya said creditors’ delay in negotiating Zambia’s debt is slowing its economic recovery.

“So, the challenge that Zambia faces today mostly is the protracted nature of the debt restructuring process that we have seen and the challenge that further augments this conversation is the fact that there are no timelines that are set and so it creates a lot of uncertainties in terms of economic planning going forward,” said Muleya.

IMF director Georgieva met late Monday with President Hichilema and vowed to help resolve the impasse with creditors.

The Economics Association of Zambia’s Trevor Simumba said reaching a final deal on Zambia’s debt would also help the IMF reverse negative views in Africa on its strict policies.

“As you are aware the economy is stagnant, it’s not growing at a pace that’s required to grow in order to deal with the structural problems.  Simply by the textbook theories of the IMF in terms of the usual – we need to rein in inflation, we need to make sure that the exchange rate is stable, doesn’t depreciate, these things in reality don’t work,” he said.

Zambia says its foreign debt hit $17 billion last June as prices for copper, one of its key exports, crashed.

Zambia is Africa’s second largest producer of the valuable metal after the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Malawi Makes Fresh Appeal for Cholera Vaccine

Malawi has appealed for more than 7 million additional doses of cholera vaccine from the World Health Organization as it struggles to control a record outbreak of the bacterial illness.

The WHO donated almost 3 million doses of the vaccine to Malawi in November but those were quickly used up. Since March of last year, almost 30,000 people have been infected and nearly 1,000 have died.

The appeal for more cholera doses comes as Malawi continues to register an increase in cases that have now affected all of its 29 districts.

The spokesperson for the health ministry, Adrian Chikumbe, said talks with the WHO are underway.

“We are expecting a consignment of 7.6 million doses for 17 districts, but we are going to also consider districts that are hard hit with the current outbreak,” Chikumbe said.

The Ministry of Health said Tuesday that there is no indication Malawi will receive the vaccine any time soon because many other countries are also pressing the WHO on the same issue.

The World Health Organization first supported Malawi with 3.9 million doses of the oral cholera vaccine last May, after the outbreak was reported in March.

The country received another consignment of 2.9 million doses in November through the WHO and the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.

Maziko Matemba, community health ambassador in Malawi, said the vaccine shortage shows a change in attitude toward the shots.

“We had a similar situation with COVID-19 where we had low uptake when we saw more people getting sick and more people dying,” Matemba said. “So I am hoping WHO and the government of Malawi will take it as an advantage that now we have high uptake, people are demanding the vaccine. Some of us have even received calls where people want to access the vaccine. So I am hoping this time we will utilize the demand.”

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated.

Malawi is currently battling its worst cholera outbreak in a decade, largely blamed on poor sanitation and hygiene.

The hard-hit districts include Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, and commercial hub Blantyre

Wongani Mbale, health promotion officer for the Blantyre District Health Office, said the main cause of cholera is the use of unsafe water.

“[In] Blantyre the population is growing due to urbanization, so the source of water is so scarce, so people are resorting into using the unsafe sources of water,” Mbale said.

The Malawian government is reconnecting water kiosks in hard-hit areas. They had been disconnected because of unpaid water bills.

As the country awaits another supply of cholera vaccine, health authorities have intensified campaigns on preventive measures, like eating boiled foods, washing hands with soap before eating and using toilets.

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US, 8 States Sue Google on Digital Ad Business Dominance

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Alphabet’s GOOGL.O Google on Tuesday over allegations that the company abused its dominance of the digital advertising business, according to a court document.

“Google has used anticompetitive, exclusionary, and unlawful means to eliminate or severely diminish any threat to its dominance over digital advertising technologies,” the government said in its antitrust complaint.

The Justice Department asked the court to compel Google to divest its Google Ad manager suite, including its ad exchange AdX.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is the second federal antitrust complaint filed against Google, alleging violations of antitrust law in how the company acquires or maintains its dominance. The Justice Department lawsuit filed against Google in 2020 focuses on its monopoly in search and is scheduled to go to trial in September.

Eight states joined the department in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, including Google’s home state of California.

Google shares were down 1.3% on the news.

The lawsuit says “Google has thwarted meaningful competition and deterred innovation in the digital advertising industry, taken supra-competitive profits for itself, prevented the free market from functioning fairly to support the interests of the advertisers and publishers who make today’s powerful internet possible.”

While Google remains the market leader by a long shot, its share of the U.S. digital ad revenue has been eroding, falling to 28.8% last year from 36.7% in 2016, according to Insider Intelligence. Google’s advertising business is responsible for some 80% of its revenue.

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Space Environmentalist Uses Technology to Raise Awareness of Space Trash

A so-called space environmentalist is working to make the public more aware about space debris by tracking its movement in real time on a website. He says we need to think about space as an ecosystem. Deana Mitchell has the story. Camera: Deana Mitchell Produced by: Deana Mitchell

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